I’ve been invited by Mike McAllum and Marcus Bussey to speak to the University of the Sunshine Coast Futures Collective next week, which was a handy prompt to bring things up to date here on recent work.
Before I get to that in a follow-up post though, I figured this also presented a timely opportunity to situate the inquiry for folks who are more deeply ensconced in the futures and foresight field, than readers who arrive here by other paths. In Marcus’s invitation email for the meeting next week, I’m billed as an “Energy Futurist”. I kind of winced and smiled at that simultaneously. I can see how what I’m doing here would naturally be seen in those terms, especially from within the futures field. At the same time, as soon as the energy descriptor gets appended, it feels like it has an unfortunate narrowing effect that the approach I’ve tried to take to this inquiry was intended to head off. An “energy futurist” sounds on face value like a person you might call up when you’re specifically interested the future(s) of [insert here something specifically related to energy supply or use, like PV technology, or oil price, or motor vehicles].
In last week’s post, we finished up by learning of Sadi Carnot’s eventual recognition that the phenomenon of heat relates to the smallest-scale motions of matter. I’ll start the last stage in our historical overview by introducing the term energy itself for the first time.Note 1 Up until early in the nineteenth century, the name ‘living force’ prevailed in relation to the quantity mv2, the product of a body’s mass and the square of its speed. Then in 1807, in A Course of Lectures in Natural Philosophy and the Mechanical Arts, Thomas Young (1773-1829) proposed the term ‘energy’ as an alternative to ‘living force’.Note 2 It’s noteworthy that in doing so, Young was not interested in whether this energy had some sort of metaphysical significance i.e. whether it had some sort of inherent existence. Rather, he was interested in the observation that in many physical situations, characteristic effects are proportional to this quantity, that it arises as an invariant feature of certain physical situations. Continue reading →